Sunday, December 1, 2019

Birding in Pasonanca Natural Park

Pasonanca Natural Park is a 17,000-hectare plus forest reservation area and is a declared protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of the Philippines. It borders two major provinces Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur and is easily accessible via city proper of Zamboanga. Pasonanca Natural Park is the main source of potable water in Zamboanga City, in fact an interesting protection mechanism here is shared not just by the local government unit and DENR but the local water district as well. Its old-growth forest is situated just 78 meters above sea level, making it I think one of the more lush forests in lower elevation. This protected area is also developed as an ecotourism site where certain portion of the park is devoted for tourist activities like hiking, river trekking, camping and bird watching.

I got the opportunity to visit Pasonanca Park last November 27 when I participated the Mindanao Protected Area Management Board Network Conference held in Palacio Del Sur Hotel, Zamboanga City. The conference was a gathering of sort for all protected area workers in Mindanao and my participation was specifically handpicked by DENR due to my long-time engagement with Mt. Apo.

The itinerary was supposed to have us visiting two good birding sites in Zamboanga in Day 2 with Pasonanca Park in the morning and Sta. Cruz Island in the afternoon. However, the latter was cancelled due to a mishap that happened a night before the tour involving big vessel and a boat where 4 Protected Area personnel were on board, the case had me settled to a Pasonanca Park birding in the early morning of November 27. Together with my guide Joel Baysa who was earlier referred to me by Big Brother Pete Simpson, I arrived in Pasonanca Park by 6:00 AM and started the walk through were flock of Coleto warmly greeted us. The goal was to actually see a Mindanao endemic Zamboanga Bulbul but it seemed that the bird was shy in the early part of the day.

In a river portion near a flood control dam I saw a solitary White-eared Brown Dove and minutes after a group of seven Mindanao Racket-tail came across. Joel brought me to a denser trail where we heard calls of Mindanao Hornbill, White-eared Tailorbird, Amethyst Brown Dove and Philippine Cuocal. We were expecting the Silvery Kingfisher to show up but to no avail.

Grey Wagtail and Brown-breasted Kingfisher were in friendly mode near a concrete water impounding area together with Purple-throated Sunbird, Collared Kingfisher, Red-keeled Flowerpecker and the migrant Grey-streaked Flycatcher. After series of hiking I decided to take breakfast in one of the sari-sari stores there but before that Joel brought me to a house where a Mindanao Bleeding Heart was in captive, not a good site to witness. Just after a short hike in an open area the Zamboanga Bulbul finally provided a short perching period. Hair-crested Drongo also perched from afar which had me taking this out of focus photo below. And when we trekked back to the Silvery Kingfisher Site I got glimpse of the very rare migrant Blue and White Flycatcher although I did not get good photo because it disappeared very quickly. Pete told me he only saw this stunning bird four times.

That round of birding in Pasonanca gracefully ended my second visit in Zamboanga City. I am deeply gratified for the assistance given by Joel, perhaps the very good person to look when doing birding in Zamboanga especially in Pasonanca Natural Park. Sir Ed Ragaza of PAMB Mt. Apo, thank you so much Sir for including me in this great trip which definitely gave me more reasons to work for more with our very own highest Philippine mountain. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

SINORON: The Water World of Sta. Cruz

The last few days I was busy doing "toxic" stuff, all work-related and most of which are office-based like meetings, client conversations and invitations from other national agencies. But on November 6 and 7 I cancelled all my schedules to attend to a very important invitation from Barangay Captain Mercedita Rivera of Sinoron to explore two waterfalls in two of its remote sitios. This is part of the barangay’s effort to be considered to become one of the tourism attractions in Sta. Cruz.

Sinoron is always referred to as a mountainous barangay of Sta. Cruz with almost all its sitios situated in a forested area, majority of which belonging to the Mt. Apo Natural Park. The Pilan River serves as its main divisor which almost equally cut-half the nineteen sitios. Sitio Pilan is the most common identity as the starting point of the forest sites. Going right from Pilan Hanging Bridge are more populated sitios Lumaban, Bagon, Egpit, Sangay, Pula Pulahan, Sampo, Viga and Libodon while to the left side are farmland sitios Limalima, Dulian, Landig, Gisi, Caramagan, Dumagok, Licop and Saroso.

Our trek started in Barangay Hall following a short conversation with Barangay Captain Rivera. After an hour we reached Pilan River Hanging Bridge where I was supposed to hire a porter from the community so that I could focus on taking pictures along the trail. Unfortunately no one was available so I just carried on with my backpack as we got to our first target destination Lumaban Water Basin. This spring is the main source of potable water in Sinoron and even in adjacent barangay Zone II. This is also a very good site to cool down with its variety of open pools and water droplets coming out from the vertical rock wall. As we head back to the hanging bridge and proceeded to our pit stop in sitio Caramagan I realized that Sinoron is the “Water World” of Sta. Cruz. From Pilan to Saroso we recorded more or less thirty active tributary streams all settled down to Pilan River, making this river mightier than any other river systems in Davao del Sur. The bigger springs are found in Dumagok and Licop which have been very evident with the presence of several waterfalls.

The farm house of sitio leader Nong Fe Maloon is situated in between the prevailing ridge in Sinoron and Pilan River where we slept overnight on November 6. He’s been living here for quite some time and eagerly convinced me to be back to his place soon. I have always been appreciative of the locals in the mountain especially when they share some good information about the place. This time, Nong Fe told me the significant value of Pilan River to their existence. The presence of life forms in the river is their source of foods and I took the chance of joining them eating some wild ration made of edible frog, river snails, shrimps and fishes. While enjoying the meal I could only pray that this river will still exist for generations to come.

The major source of income in Sinoron is farming. Several fruits and high value crops are found in all sitios here like coffee, banana, coconut, cacao and Sugar Palm Tree or commonly called Kaong. The farm workers of Nong Fe were busy doing post-harvest practices of Kaong, a very tedious task that requires patience. Our chief guide, Kagawad Ben Banglos discussed several interesting facts about how the people left farming activity in Sinoron during the time when the barangay was declared No-Man’s-Land due to the heightening cases of insurgency in the late 70s up to the early 90s. Indeed, Sinoron is the remainder of the war between the rebel soldiers and government troops that lasted for more or less two decades. This ghost barangay before was even dubbed as Mindanao’s little Afghanistan.

As we trekked further to see two major waterfalls in Saroso a day after I eagerly do my usual biodiversity assessment. This widely green-carpeted barangay is home to several Mindanao and Philippine endemic flora and fauna. The transect line from Caramagan to sitio Viga had us noticing tracks of Philippine Warty Pig particularly in the portion of Saroso and sitio Sampo. While resting in the house of Plongplong Palanca I saw 5 Coletos and flock of Asian Glossy Starlings. Two Philippine Falconets also showed up, the other one in fact had its prey for lunch. The highlight thus far was the presence of more or less ten Writhed Hornbills in the adjacent hill in Saroso and Libodon. Other birds spotted are Mindanao Hornbill, Philippine Bulbul and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker among others. During that time I noticed birds were shy to go out, maybe because most of them are breeding or, to the very least, in the moulting process. River biodiversity includes colourful Damselflies and Common Forest Frogs. Some attractive flora species were also spotted, the most obvious are the Poison Ivy.

Two waterfalls were seen during the exploration, one in Sampo and one in Viga. But the one most suitable for ecotourism purposes is Viga Falls - or Tacob Laya Falls as locals would put it, which has a vertical drop of more or less 40 meters and a good 15-meter diameter pool. The water from which Viga Falls came out originates from the lake in Libodon, this is according to Nong Fe Maloon and Kagawad Banglos.
While the barangay council is bent on grooming Sinoron for tourism it is still a fact that one of the most common identity of this place is its rich biodiversity. Personally I am with the barangay authorities with this plan but we need to craft comprehensive measures to be able to integrate tourism towards biodiversity conservation. At the same time I am excited about this development. The silence of this place for a very long time because of insurgency is now about to be broken and I am glad that tourism is one of the subjects of interest.